Essex defeated Worcestershire by four wickets

Worcestershire came so close to being party poopers'on the day Essex celebrated their crowning as totesport League champions.

Instead, the visitors suffered a last-over defeat that sets up a final-day survival showdown against Lancashire next Sunday.

Worcestershire's defeat, along with Lancashire's to Middlesex yesterday, leaves the bottom four clubs on 22 points. But Hampshire and Gloucestershire have a palpably worse run-rate, effectively meaning that one of them will survive only if either wins and the match at New Road is rained off.

Weather permitting, avoiding that third relegation place is the prize for the winners at New Road on Sunday. But Steve Rhodes, the Pears' coach, is looking for a better demonstration of out-cricket, after seeing Grant Flower (81) and Alastair Cook (62) help Essex reach their 240-plus victory target.

It was the sixth time Worcestershire have topped 200 in the one-day league this summer but they have lost on five of those six occasions and Rhodes is insistent that they simply have to find a better way of keeping the runs down.

"Next week is no different to any of our recent games," he said, "They've all been important.

" I've deliberately not looked at the table as all I know is that we'll be looking for four points and to win well but to do that,m we've got to bowl better and field better than we did today. It comes down to needing better concentration and anticipation."

Not even having the coach himself on as a substitute fieldsman for a brief period when Nadeem Malik and Chris Gayle were off the field could do the trick.

Nadeem looks likely to miss the season's final week with what appears to be a rib cartilage injury while Gayle picked up a niggle in his groin after leaving the field while batting, having suffered heart palpitations.

On top of Shoaib Akhtar missing out with the flu and Kabir Ali and Matt Mason carrying injuries, Worcestershire's frustrating season appears to be coming to a timely end.

They lost Gayle in only the third over. The West Indian opener pulled up in the middle of the pitch and, after treatment, had to be led off. He had recovered sufficiently to resume his innings when the first wicket fell an hour later.

Stephen Moore advanced down the pitch to Grant Flower and was stumped for a patient 38. Flower struck again when he took a return catch from Vikram Solanki who had been at his entertaining best, hitting 11 fours and two sixes in his 79 from 62 balls.

Although Graeme Hick and Gayle took the score to 172 for two, the innings was already starting to lose its Solanki-inspired momentum. David Leatherdale and Ben Smith's nurdling and quick running kept things ticking late on, only for a clatter of wickets in Andre Adams' final over.

Four went in successive balls, including Gareth Batty's run-out. Despite Nadeem coming in for the hat-trick ball, he and Smith added 12 runs.

Old head Leatherdale bowled four successive dotballs at the end of the 43rd over to leave Essex needing 16 off the last two but Ravi Bopara punished a loose final over by Kabir to the tune of 14 runs. James Foster won it off the first ball of the next, with five balls to spare.

* David Wigley is set to be recalled to Worcestershire's injury-hit team for Wednesday's County Championship clash with Essex at New Road. But it looks likely to be the Yorkshire-born pace bowler's farewell appearance for the county before he joins Northamptonshire.

Wigley has struggled to regain his place this summer after breaking his hand early in the season.

Having been given permission to talk to other counties, it looks likely that he will link up at Wantage Road next summer with former Worcestershire director of finance and operations Mark Tagg, now the Northants chief executive.